Laurence Waddell

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Lieutenant Colonel Laurence Austine Waddell,[1] CB, CIE, F.L.S., L.L.D, M.Ch., I.M.S. RAI, F.R.A.S (1854–1938) was a British explorer, Professor of Tibetan, Professor of Chemistry and Pathology, British army surgeon,[2] collector in Tibet, philologist, amateur archeologist, Doctor of Laws, and author. Waddell was also a philologist and linguist, having studied Sumerian and Sanskrit he made various translations of seals and other inscriptions. His reputation as a Sumerologist gained no recognition and his works on the history of civilization have caused controversy.[3]


A Chinese Horse-Dragon, Reproduced in Waddell's, "The Buddhism of Tibet: Or Lamaism, with Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology ...", 1895. Unknown Chinese artist.
A Tibetan Lung-Horse, Reproduced in Waddell's, "The Buddhism of Tibet: Or Lamaism, with Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology ...", 1895. Unknown Tibetan artist.
A photo of Paljor Dorje Shatra, Reproduced in Waddell's "Lhasa and Its Mysteries-With a Record of the British Tibetan Expedition of 1903-1904", 1905.)

Laurence Waddell was born on 29 May 1854, and was the son of Rev. Thomas Clement Waddell, a Doctor of Divinity at Glasgow University and Jean Chapman, daughter of John Chapman of Banton, Stirlingshire.[4][5] Laurence Waddell obtained a Bachelor's degree in Medicine followed by a Masters degree in both Surgery and Chemistry at Glasgow University in 1878. His first job was as a resident surgeon near the university and was also the President of Glasgow University's Medical Society.[6] In 1880 Waddell joined the British Army and served as a medical officer for the Indian Medical Service (I.M.S), subsequently he was stationed in India and the Far East (Tibet, China and Burma). The following year he became a Professor of Chemistry and Pathology at the Medical College of Kolkata, India. While working in India, Waddell also studied Sanskrit for 4 years, and became a prominent philologist,[7] he also edited the Indian Medical Gazette, contributing zoological or medical articles such as "Are Venomous Snakes Autotoxic? An inquiry into the effect of serpent venom upon the serpents themselves" (1889) later becoming the "Assistant Sanitary Commissioner" under the government of India.[8]

After Waddell worked as a Professor of Chemistry and Pathology for 6 years, he became involved in military expeditions across Burma and Tibet.[9] Between 1885-1887 Waddell took part in the British expedition that annexed Upper Burma, which defeated Thibaw Min the last king of the Konbaung dynasty.[10] After his return from Burma Waddell was stationed in Darjeeling district, India, and was appointed Principal Medical Officer in 1888, as well as an officer for the Deputy Sanitary Commissioner. In the 1890s Waddell, while in Patna, established that Agam Kuan was part of Ashoka's Hell.[11] His first publications were essays and articles on medicine and anthropology, most notably "The Birds of Sikkim" (1893) followed by "Some Ancient Indians Charms from the Tibetan" published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland in 1895.[12] He also published several articles in the Bengal Asiatic Society's Journal between 1891 and 1899. In 1895 he obtained a doctorate in law.[13]

Waddell traveled extensively in India throughout the 1890s (including Sikkim and areas on the borders of Nepal and Tibet) and wrote about the Tibetan Buddhist religious practices he observed there. Stationed with the British army in Darjeeling, Waddell learned the Tibetan language and even visited Tibet several times secretly, in disguise. He was the cultural consultant on the 1903-1904 British invasion of Tibet led by Colonel Sir Francis Edward Younghusband, and was considered alongside Sir Charles Bell as one of the foremost authorities on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism. Waddell studied archaeology and ethnology in-between his military assignments across India and Tibet, and his exploits in the Himalayas were published in his highly successful book Among the Himalayas (1899). Various archaeological excavations were also carried out and supervised by Waddell across India, including Pataliputra, of which he did not receive recognition of discovery until long after his death, in 1982, by the government of Bengal. His discoveries at Pataliputra were published in an official report "Discovery of the exact site of Asoka's classical capital of Pataliputra, the Palibothra of the Greeks" (1892).[14] During this period he also specialised in Buddhist antiquities and became a collector, between 1895-97 he published "Reports on collections of Indo-Scythian Buddhist Sculptures from the Swat Valley", in 1893 he also read a paper to the International Congress of Orientalists: "On some newly found Indo-Grecian Buddhistic Sculptures from the Swat Valley".[14] In 1895 Waddell published his book Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism, which was one of the first works published in the west on Buddhism. Waddell had come across many ancient Tibetan manuscripts and published them, but soon left these studies because the Tibetan manuscripts contained no reference to any ancient civilization, which he had hoped to discover.[15]

Waddell continued his military service with the Indian Medical Service the next years. He was in China during the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1901), including the Relief of Peking in August 1900, for which he was mentioned in despatches, received the China War Medal (1900) with clasp, and was in 1901 appointed a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE).[16] By late 1901 he had moved to North-West Frontier Province and was present during the Mahsud-Waziri Blockade, 1901–02. He was in Malakand in 1902 and took part in the PMO Tibet Mission to Lhasa 1903–04, for which he was agin mentioned in despatches, received a medal with clasp and was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB). Waddell then returned to England and briefly became Professor of Tibetan at the University College of London (1906–1908). Shortly after he retired and dedicated his life to writing.

In 1908, Waddell began to learn Sumerian.[17] Thus in his later career he turned to studying the ancient near east, especially Sumeria and dedicated his time to deciphering or translating ancient cuneiform tablets or seals, most notably including the Scheil dynastic tablet.[18] In 1911, Waddell published two entries in the Encyclopædia Britannica.[19] Waddell's son died having served in the World War.[20] By 1917, Waddell was fully retired and first started exclusively writing on Aryans, beginning in an article published in the Asiatic Review entitled "Aryan Origin of the World's Civilization".[21] From the 1920s Waddell published several works which attempted to prove an Aryan (i.e., Indo-European) origin of the alphabet and the appearance of Indo-European myth figures in ancient Near Eastern mythologies (e.g. Hittite, Sumerian, Babylonian). The foundation of his argument is what he saw as a persistence of cult practices, religious symbols, mythological stories and figures, and god and hero names (based on etymology) throughout Western and Near Eastern civilizations, but also based his arguments on his deciphered Sumerian and Indus-Valley seals, and other archaeological findings. He is commemorated in the Giant Babax Babax waddelli.

Waddell's Theories[edit]

Waddell's voluminious writings after his retirement were based on an attempt to prove the Sumerians (who he identified as Aryans) as the progenitors of other ancient civilizations, such as the Indus Valley Civilization and ancient Egyptians to "the classic greeks and Romans and Ancient Britons, to whom they [the Sumerians] passed on from hand to hand down the ages the torch of civilization".[22] He is most remembered however for his controversial translations, such as the Scheil dynastic tablet, the Bowl of Utu and Newton Stone.

Indus-Valley Seals[edit]

The first Indus Valley or Harappan seal was published by Alexander Cunningham in 1872 however it was erroneously identified.[23] It was half a century later, in 1912, when more Indus Valley seals were discovered by J. Fleet, prompting an excavation campaign under Sir John Hubert Marshall in 1921–22, resulting in the discovery of the ancient civilization at Harappa (later including Mohenjo-daro). As ancient seals were discovered from the Indus Valley, Waddell in 1925 first attempted to decipher them and claimed they were of Sumerian origin in his Indo-Sumerian Seals Deciphered, arguing that they were evidence of Sumerian colonists who arrived there c. 3100 BC.[24] The work received mixed reaction among academics. The scholar and reverend George Aaron Barton published a lengthy article criticising Waddell's translations, convinced Waddell was mistaken.[25][26] The philologist Ralph Lilley Turner went further to dismiss Waddell's translations, calling them a "fantasy".[27] Frederick William Thomas however praised Waddell's research as a "wide accomplishment" while others considered his conclusions to at least be plausible.[28][29] Most modern scholars agree that the Sumerians traded with the peoples of the Indus Valley Civilization, as Harappan seals have been discovered across Mesopotamia.[30] The Sumerian trade link with the Indus Valley is further boosted by the appearance of Meluhha in ancient Sumerian literature and so Sumerian-Indus Valley trade links were probably existent. Waddell however argued further that the Indus Valley was colonised by Sumerians, who he identified as being Aryans, even sharing the same kings. This theory has little, if any, scholarly support today however Barton noted in 1929 that Waddell's views on a Sumerian colony in the Indus Valley were shared to some degree with many other prominent scholars at the time, including notably the Assyriologist Archibald Sayce.[31]

Vaidyanatha Ayyar, an Indian scholar, building on Waddell's work, published in 1927 a book entitled The Sumerian Origin of the Laws of Manu.

Proto-Indo-European Homeland[edit]

Waddell placed the Proto-Indo-European or Proto-Aryan homeland in the Danube Valley, adjacent to the Black Sea from the 6th-4th millennium BC.[32] The archaeologist V. Gordon Childe also considered this location as the homeland of the Proto-Aryans (Proto-Indo-Europeans) after his research on the Danubian culture, especially its pottery.[33]

Today, the Danubian (or nearby Balkan) homeland hypothesis of the Proto-Indo-European still has scholarly support.[34]

Sumerian Language[edit]

In his works Aryan Origin of the Alphabet and Sumer-Aryan Dictionary (1927) Waddell attempted to prove that the Sumerian language was of an Aryan (Indo-European) origin, linked most closely to a Proto-Indo-Hittite script. The non-Semitic origin of the Sumerian language was first established in the late 19th century by Julius Oppert and Henry Rawlinson from which many different theories were proposed as to its origin. Modern consensus is that Sumerian is a language isolate.


Waddell from 1917 (having first published the article "Aryan Origin of the World's Civilization") until his death was a proponent of hyperdiffusionism,[35] believing that many cultures and ancient civilizations were the product of Aryan Sumerian colonists such as the Indus Valley Civilization, Minoan Crete,[36] Phoenicia, Dynastic Egypt[37] and Bronze Age Britain.[38] His key work on Sumerian hyperdiffusionism was published in 1929, the full title printed as The makers of civilization in race & history, showing the rise of the Aryans or Sumerians, their origination & propagation of civilization, their extension of it to Egypt & Crete, personalities & achievements of their kings, historical originals of mythic gods & heroes with dates from the rise of civilization about 3380 B.C. reconstructed from Babylonian, Egyptian, Hittite, Indian & Gothic sources. In this work Waddell attempted to establish an Aryan (Indo-European) origin of the Sumerians, identifying them as Indo-Hittites or a branch of Anatolians who arrived in the Fertile Crescent during the late 4th millennium BC (ultimately having originated as a Proto-Indo-European society in the Danube Valley) where they founded the Sumerian kingship. Having established civilization in Sumeria, by Aryans, Waddell through archaeology, mythology and philology attempted to show ancient Sumerian colonies across parts of Europe (especially Crete and Britain), Egypt and India. Waddell's chronology attempted to correlate ancient rulers of Sumer, Egypt and the Indus Valley civilizations.[3]

Grafton Elliot Smith who pioneered hyperdiffusionism (but of the ancient Egyptians) was an influential correspondent to Waddell.[39] A modified, less extreme form of Waddell's Sumerian hyperdiffusionism was supported by the archaeologist John Myres who argued for a Mesopotamian cultural origin for the ancient Greeks and also Oscar Montelius who suggested an ancient near eastern origin for the Aryans. There were many academic opponents however of the "diffusionist school" and Waddell's theories never became popular.[40]

Waddell's proposed Sumerian connection to Bronze Age Britain was revived by Christian O'Brien in 1983, who developed his theories.[41]

Published Books[edit]

(for book descriptions see footnotes)

  • Frog-worship amongst the Newars: with a note on the etymology of the word Nepal (1893, originally published as a lengthy article, but also appeared as a book) [42]
  • The Birds of Sikkim (1893, originally published as a lengthy article, but also appeared as a book)
  • Buddhism of Tibet or Lamaism, With Its Mystic Cults, Symbolism and Mythology and in Its Relation to Indian Buddhism (1895) [43]
  • Among the Himalayas (1899) [44]
  • The Tribes of the Brahmaputra valley (1901) [45]
  • Lhasa and Its Mysteries-With a Record of the British Tibetan Expedition of 1903-1904 (1905) [46]
  • The "Dhāranī" cult in Buddhism: its origin, deified literature and images (1912)
  • Phoenician Origin of the Britons, Scots, and Anglo-Saxons (1924, 2nd ed. 1925)[47]
  • Indo-Sumerian Seals Deciphered discovering Sumerians of Indus Valley as Phoenicians, Barats, Goths & famous Vedic Aryans 3100-2300 B.C. (1925)
  • Sumer-Aryan Dictionary. An Etymological Lexicon of the English and other Aryan Languages Ancient and Modern and the Sumerian Origin of Egyptian and its Hieroglyphs (1927)
  • Aryan Origin of the Alphabet (1927)
  • Questionary on the Sumerian markings upon prehistoric pottery found in the Danube & associated valleys of Middle Europe (1928, small booklet)
  • Makers of Civilization in Race and History (1929) [48]
  • Egyptian Civilization Its Sumerian Origin and Real Chronology (1930)
  • The British Edda (1930) [49]


  • Charles Edward Buckland, Dictionary of Indian biography (Oxford DNB, 1906).
  • Christine Preston, "The rise of man in the gardens of Sumeria: a biography of L.A. Waddell" (Brighton, 2009).

See also[edit]

References & Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Most sources have "Laurence Austine", such as: At least one source has "Laurence Augustine":
    • Laurence Augustine Waddell at the Manuscripts Catalogue, University of Glasgow —According to this catalogue, L. A. Waddell was born with the name "Laurence Augustine Waddell" and at some unknown later time began using "Austine" as his middle name. His books have the name "L. Austine Waddell" and Indian sources often refer to him as "Lawrence Austine Waddell."
  2. ^ "WADDELL, Lieut.-Col. Laurence Austine". Who's Who, 59: p. 1811. 1907. 
  3. ^ a b Christine Preston (30 September 2009). The Rise of Man in the Gardens of Sumeria: A Biography of L.A. Waddell. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-84519-315-7. Retrieved 4 December 2012. 
  4. ^ Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ: the Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation (1915-), Scott, Hew, (9 volumes. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1915-), FHL book 941 D3s; FHL microfiche 6026402., vol. 3 p. 270. [1]
  5. ^ "Colonel L. A. Waddell", F. W. Thomas, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 3, Jul., 1939, p. 499.
  6. ^ "The rise of man in the gardens of Sumeria: a biography of L.A. Waddell", Christine Preston, Sussex Academic Press, 2009, p. 25.
  7. ^ Preston, 2009, pp.1-2.
  8. ^ Thomas, 1939, pp.499-500.
  9. ^ Preston, 2009, p. 30.
  10. ^ Preston, 2009, p. 31.
  11. ^ "Agam Kuan". Directorate of Archaeology, Govt. of Bihar, official website. Retrieved April 19, 2013. "Waddell on his exploration of the ruins of Patliputra during 1890s identified Agam Kuan with the legendary hell built by Ashoka for torturing people as cited by the Chinese travellers of the 5th and 7th centuries A.D." 
  12. ^ Preston, 2009, p.36.
  13. ^ Waddell Archive
  14. ^ a b Thomas, 1939, p.500.
  15. ^ Preston, 2009, pp.28-40.
  16. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 27337. p. 4917. 24 July 1901.
  17. ^ Preston, 2009, p.20.
  18. ^ Waddell's translation appears in his Makers of Civilization in Race and History (1929).
  19. ^ “Lhasa” in Encyclopædia Britannica, (11th ed.), 1911. “Tibet” in Encyclopædia Britannica, (11th ed.), 1911.
  20. ^ Thomas, 1939, p.504
  21. ^ Thomas, 1939, p.503.
  22. ^ "Makers of Civilization in Race & History", London: Luzac, 1929, p. 497).
  23. ^ Cunningham, A., 1875. Archaeological Survey of India, Report for the Year 1872-73, 5: 105-8 and pl. 32-3. Calcutta: Archaeological Survey of India
  24. ^ Indo-Sumerian Seals, L. A. Waddell, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 1, Jan., 1926, p. 115-116.
  25. ^ "On the So-Called Sumero-Indian Seals", George A. Barton, The Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research Vol. 8, 1926 - 1927, pp. 79-95.
  26. ^ Preston, 2009, p. 20.
  27. ^ "Review: Indo-Sumerian Seals Deciphered", R. L. Turner Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, University of London, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1926, p. 376.
  28. ^ "Review: The Indo-Sumerian Seals Deciphered", J. Charpentier, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, No. 4, Oct., 1925, pp. 797-799.
  29. ^ Preston, 2009, p. 4.
  30. ^ "The ancient Indus Valley: new perspectives", Jane McIntosh, 2008, p. 184.
  31. ^ Whence Came the Sumerians?, George A. Barton, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 49, 1929, p. 265.
  32. ^ Preston, 2009, p. 153; Waddell, 1929, p. 517.
  33. ^ "The Aryans: a study of Indo-European origins", 1926.
  34. ^ "Indo-European origins: the anthropological evidence", Johv V. Day, Institute for the Study of Man, 2001, pp.328-342; "In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology, and Myth", J. P. Mallory, London: Thames & Hudson, 1997, p. 106.
  35. ^ Preston, 2009, p.5.
  36. ^ Waddell believed King Minos was Menes, who in turn was Manis-Tusu, the son of Sargon.
  37. ^ Waddell believed that dynastic Egyptian civilization had an Aryan origin and that Pharaoh Menes' dynasty was "identical with the whole imperial dynasty of Manis-Tusu, the son of Sargon of Mesopotamia...". - Waddell, Egyptian Civilization Its Sumerian Origin and Real Chronology (originally published 1930) Kessinger Publishing Co (1 March 2003) ISBN 978-0-7661-4273-2 p. 130
  38. ^ Phoenician Origin of the Britons, Scots, and Anglo-Saxons (1924, 2nd ed. 1925).
  39. ^ Preston, 2009, pp. 5-6, footnotes; another source notes: "Waddell's thesis mirrored contemporary Grafton Elliot Smith's better-known theory of Egypt".
  40. ^ Preston, 2009, pp.5-8.
  41. ^ O'Brien's work The Megalithic Odyssey (1983) was influenced by Waddell.
  42. ^ One of Waddell's earliest printed books, originally a published article for the Indian Antiquary, xxii (1893).
  43. ^ Waddell's best-known work, and was one of the first books published in the west to offer such extensive observations of Buddhism, ranging from metaphysics to practical magic. Waddell explains the whole Tibetan pantheon, including transcriptions of hundreds of charms and mantras and detailed coverage of the doctrine of incarnation and reincarnation.
  44. ^ An engaging journal of fourteen years of travel. In Waddell's own words, "During the past fourteen years I have traversed portions of the borderlands of Sikkim nearly every year, sketching, shooting, collecting, and especially exploring the customs of the people on the frontiers of Tibet, and of Nepal. This illustrated narrative of my journeyings I hope may reflect, in some measure, the keen enjoyment of travel in these regions, may awaken further interest in a fascinating though little known land, may assist in guiding the traveler to those features that are of greatest general interest, and bring home to the reader a whiff of the bracing breezes of the Himalayas."
  45. ^ An ethnological work on various Mongoloid peoples across Tibet.
  46. ^ Documents the people and religion of the Tibetan capital, including British-Tibetan military clashes and peace negotiations.
  47. ^ "Ouvrage intéressant mais qui fut longtemps occulté et reste difficile à consulter" [Interesting book but a long time hidden and now difficult to look at], Jean-Pierre Thiollet, Je m'appelle Byblos, H & D, 2005, p. 207. ISBN 2 914 266 04 9
  48. ^ Waddell's most lengthy work, detailing his historical model of Aryan-Sumerian hyperdiffusionism.
  49. ^ Waddell reconstructs the Old Icelandic Poetic Edda under the notion that the text is very ancient and actually "British." His pursuit is apparent the subtitle: "The great epic poem of the ancient Britons of the exploits of King Thor, Arthur, or Adam and his knights in establishing civilization reforming Eden & capturing the Holy Grail about 3380-3350 B.C." For this he uses the language and art of Indo-European and Semitic peoples, and draws lines through mythologies connecting ancient gods and stories to those in the medieval manuscripts of the Edda.

External links[edit]